lilwayne-5

The Death Of The Group & The Art Of Professional Loyalty

Check out any Hip-Hop oriented radio show, magazine or website and if you pay careful attention in between the latest incarceration reports regarding Gucci Mane, T.I. and Lil’ Wayne, you’ll notice two themes: stories of groups and cliques breaking up on one hand; and news of previously successful groups, who have broken up, talking reunion – long past their prime.

Technology, new business trends, and the natural flow of change, of course, has something to do with the decline in the number of groups on the scene today, but most civil wars in Hip-Hop especially within successful crews, are self-inflicted and due to a special form of ignorance.

Most artists are simply never made to appreciate there is a difference between feeling personal loyalty and demonstrating professional loyalty.

The subject is one of the most controversial in Volume II of my book, The Entrepreneurial Secret (http://theesecret.com/) but once people realize the difference, they can accept that being able to outwardly show loyalty to something on a level you don’t personally feel is a valuable business skill and one that keeps organizations together to the benefit of all involved. The result: people make more money united than they do apart, as the group brand increases in value.

Until this technique is perfected, and people understand it doesn’t make you a hypocrite, we will never see strong teams again in rap. It’s just becoming too expensive to experiment with putting people on. Today it isn’t personal love that will bind us together but professional loyalty.

Here is how my business mentor, Frank, describes it in my book:

“The entrepreneurs and professionals who are going to survive the current economic crisis… will understand the difference between demonstrating loyalty and being personally loyal. They know that demonstrating loyalty is a business dynamic, not a spiritual requirement. It is the ability to demonstrate attachment, support, and connection. Politicians can switch parties and still win elections. Coaches can leave football, soccer, hockey, basketball and baseball teams and win championships with different teams. CEOs can leave to go to new companies in a very short period of time and lead organizations full of people they have never worked with before, and in fact have competed intensely against only days, weeks and months before. Entrepreneurs can set up businesses in different countries selling products to consumers because they know how to demonstrate loyalty, even if they have more personal loyalty to a particular political party, company, or country.

“This is because these persons are able to demonstrate to others what they may not feel exclusively or deeply within their hearts…There is a difference between wearing a brand proudly and feeling proudly about a brand.

“I believe that at office parties, and drinks after work, you should be wearing the brand of the company you work for proudly, or demonstrating some form of loyalty to it. That is different than feeling proud about it. If you work for Nike, then everything in your wardrobe should have its symbol on it. But some people will say ‘I’m not working for the company on off hours.’ But they are confused. No one is asking them to feel something but rather only to demonstrate the feeling.”

Most of us – who will never learn these things in elementary, middle, or high school – are simply too confused about what Frank describes to make it work for us in business. In a world like rap culture where street ethics are supposedly valued, and being real often amounts to only superficial things, it is too easy to become personally offended or to feel betrayed by basic business activities. Asking an artist to sacrifice a personal gain, or pass on an opportunity for the benefit of the whole of a group is confused with being “son’ed” or “kissing someone’s a—.” When you throw in the painful history of oppressed people (the communities from whom the artists come) who associate ‘service’ with ‘slavery’ or ‘exploitation,’ things only get worse. Finally, when one recognizes how individuality (read: Russell Simmons’ not wearing suits to business meetings or formal social affairs) is celebrated more than following rules of etiquette, or celebrating ‘team’ in rap culture, it is easy to see how only a few people in Hip-Hop will ever be able to balance the personal and professional sides of loyalty in a group setting.

From the corporate world we see a recent example of this in the debate over Microsoft employees being shunned for using iPhones. Here’s how the Wall Street Journal described it in a recent article, “Forbidden Fruit: Microsoft Workers Hide Their iPhones”:

”The iPhone is made, of course, by Microsoft’s longtime rival, Apple Inc. The device’s success is a nagging reminder for Microsoft executives of how the company’s own efforts to compete in the mobile business have fallen short in recent years. What is especially painful is that many of Microsoft’s own employees are nuts for the device.

The perils of being an iPhone user at Microsoft were on display last September. At an all- company meeting in a Seattle sports stadium, one hapless employee used his iPhone to snap photos of Microsoft Chief Executive Steve Ballmer. Mr. Ballmer snatched the iPhone out of the employee’s hands, placed it on the ground and pretended to stomp on it in front of thousands of Microsoft workers, according to people present.”

I thought of G-Unit and the drama over 50 Cent dismissing Game and Young Buck from the team for basically, from his perspective, not showing enough professional loyalty. I’m not making a moral judgment about the ethics of Game and Young Buck. I believe both of them very well could have been correct for refusing to do what 50 Cent wanted them to do (which seems to boil down to showing more negative energy toward G-Unit competitors). To me, that was a personal decision. Clearly though, on a business level, their careers have never been the same since they were dismissed.

When you look at it from 50 Cent and the G-Unit brand’s perspective what 50 expected of them was not unreasonable. It was consistent with his style, formula and modus operandi which is perfecting ‘the art of beef.’ To me, both parties share responsibility for possible mistakes and errors – 50 for bringing people into his team that did not have his temperament or concept of loyalty, and Young Buck and Game for signing up with someone who they probably suspected was capable of asking them to go places their value system wouldn’t let them.

In the final analysis all parties involved suffered on a business level. Just imagine how hot (and commercially successful) the natural second G-Unit album would have been with Lloyd Banks, Yayo, Game, Buck, 50 and Olivia (they could have just thrown her and 50’s underplayed ‘Cloud 9’ on the album) released, say, around the Spring of 2005.

I have no problem with the CEO of Microsoft, Steve Ballmer not wanting his employees to be using iPhones in his presence. When building with his employees about their iPhone use, he reportedly told them that when his father ‘worked at Ford, his family drove Fords.’ I’m sure that not all Ford employees believed Ford made the best cars, but it was not personal loyalty the company expected, it was the demonstration of professionally loyalty.

Having said that, I think Steve Ballmer would be foolish and Microsoft would be making a mistake if it did not interpret so many Microsoft employees using the iPhone as an indication that the Microsoft has a long way to go in order to make Windows mobile phones truly competitive. We’ll see if it learns any lessons with the release of the Windows 7 Series this Christmas.

I simply do not see the elements in place for most cliques, teams, and groups to survive much less thrive in today’s roller coaster music industry and the sacrifices it demands. Coming from the House of Wu I look for three elements in any new unit supposedly headed for stardom. If I don’t see these, along with a healthy appreciation for business principles I don’t co-sign: 1) an undisputed head of the group who guides with wisdom rather than just charisma or force 2) an ideology, knowledge base, or belief system that the group accepts and 3) kinship ties – at a blood, marriage, childhood, or neighborhood level.

Through RZA, the Lessons, and a Staten Island-Brooklyn connection not only the original 9 members, but supporting artists, executives, staff, and entourage were all linked together.

Simply picking a crew of artists on the basis of talent and even complimentary creative energy is not enough. To build a successful group these days, one also needs the elements that Wu-Tang had along with clarity about the concept of professional loyalty.

Until then, the only song rap groups will be making is “Break Up To Make Up” – whether by Jeremih or The Stylistics.

20 years later, I’m still mourning the break-up of Brand Nubian (and what could have been – culturally and commercially) and their inability to live their classic ‘One For All’ (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iPfBRSscspU).

Cedric Muhammad is a business consultant, political strategist, and monetary economist. He is also a former GM of Wu-Tang Management and a Member of the African Union’s First Congress of African Economists. He is author of the book, ‘The Entrepreneurial Secret’ (http://theEsecret.com/). He can be contacted via e-mail at: cedric(at)cmcap.com

blog comments powered by Disqus